Obama's Dilemma

27/12/2012 10:33 GMT | Updated 27/12/2012 10:33 GMT

In July of this year I wrote in the wake of the Aurora cinema shootings that it would take an action of similar savagery to push America toward more responsible gun ownership. Sadly and sobering, I was proved right in the wake of the Sandy Hook atrocity. I so wish I was not correct, but now Obama must work against the odds to make sure that he can reduce the incidence and chances of such attacks. I do not say prevent, as due to the amount of weapons already in circulation in the US, it is impossible to reduce the threat totally. Yet Obama's clear desire to limit the threat may even prove difficult in reality.

Before someone labels me a 'limey' that does not understand the US and the second amendment because I am British, I understand how intrinsic arms are to everyday US life, and I have no desire to advocate for a ban, simply better control. I have spent several months in the US, where I saw the only way to maintain a healthy farm is to deter scavenging predators from decimating livestock. I saw townships hours from anywhere, meaning in the event of a burglary it could be too late to do anything but defend yourself. Of course, this also means that the commonality of arms means even simple events can escalate rapidly. For example, be involved in a minor car accident in Britain and you might get into an argument. In the US this could mean that someone loses their life.

Despite this, in agriculture dependant states, the necessity for arms somewhat blunts Obama's options. He will never get a ban on hunting rifles, as they are still needed for livestock protection and control, as well as hunting being a long established pastime of many Americans. Similarly, the use of telescopic sights will never be fully banned. So that leaves him with a ban on the fringes of the arms sector. He may succeed in bans on assault weapons, clip sizes or bullet types. That though will only neuter part of the threat. After all, Connecticut had a partial ban on assault weapons, but that did not stop Sandy Hook.

More so, an outright ban will not be achieved due to the technical nature of arms. Banning semi-automatics pretty much bans everything bar revolvers, so is just impractical. A buy back program as seen in Australia after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 would be hugely expensive, but like Australia could be funded by a temporary increase in a tax. Yet many states in middle America would not allow this due to their needs due to farming as outlined earlier. So a ban on arms not routinely used by these states could be used, such as banning weapons that clearly have no use outside the military such as the M4 Bushmaster as used as the main weapon by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook. Yet this in itself presents problems, as legislation would require detailed categories to succinctly define what an assault rifle is. Is it by length of barrel, or by magazine size? Also, what of the loopholes this presents? Say a ban is introduced on a 30 round clip, a 29 round clip could be perfectly legal. Washington could well get bogged down in red tape, meaning any ban may be both ineffective and/or a long term in creation.

Therefore a more affective option (not an alternative, but to compliment a ban) is to look at the person behind the weapon. Adam Lanza was not the registered owner of the guns, his mother was, but a more detailed background check of who would have access to guns i.e. who else resides in the household would be beneficial. Yes this is state intervention into citizen's private lives, but only after someone who has made a choice to purchase a weapon. This may in itself dissuade arms being owned by families with members with mental illness. Secondly, it is time America (and the rest of world in general) treats mental illness the same as a physical aliment, and acts preventively. By listening more to school councillors, psychiatrists and doctors, this should highlight troubled youths before they become killers, and allows them to receive proper treatment and hopefully lead normal, healthy adult lives. A further debate could be made about how weapons are sold between private individuals and on background checks between states, showing that bans are part of a more holistic solution.

Despite the many options presented to him, Obama may not be able to make much ground. The fact that 50 states have differing laws on gun control and an antagonistic Republican party will slow debate, but the President can not even entertain the idea until the fiscal cliff debate has been resolved. With the inertia in Washington on the issue, this may be well into 2013. The oxygen is already being drawn away from a gun control debate, with the amount of column inches given to the issue already dramatically down just over a week after the shooting. Further, overall public opinion has moved only slightly in favour on gun control, despite the numerous public protests.

On top of this, sales of guns are worryingly up in response as many think that the NRA's concept of more guns means a safer America, despite the lunacy of such an idea. For example, the 'School Shield' concept is riddled with flaws. What if the shooter takes out the schools guard first? What if the guard fails to kill the shooter or even miss fires and kills a pupil? What if, god forbid, the shooter is the guard? Not to mention the immense cost of such a program. Yet this highlights the divide between Obama and the American public. It will be a veritable minefield for him to negotiate even weak gun control legislation, but unless he does, I will expect the likes of Aurora and Sandy Hook to occur again and again until the body count becomes too much for even the staunchest defender of the Second Amendment to stomach.